Tom Gores has always been enthusiastic about the Detroit Pistons.
For the first time since he bought the team in 2011, they are actually giving him a reason to be excited.
Gores attended Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic, speaking to the media at halftime before addressing the coaches and players after the game.
"I’m happy — really and honestly — for our fans and the city of Detroit," he said. "I feel like I was brought in as a new owner to deliver something, and I feel like I’m at least finally delivering on part of what the fans expect."
After three unsuccessful seasons, Gores made big changes this year, dumping Joe Dumars after almost 30 years with the franchise, and turning the entire basketball operation over to Stan Van Gundy. When that didn’t show immediate dividends — the team started 5-23 — Gores was willing to eat over $30 million by allowing Van Gundy to waive Josh Smith.
"Stan didn’t just call me one day and say ‘this is what we have to do’ — We had been talking for a few months about how we were going to get this team into the future," Gores said. "Josh is a great talent, but we had so many other great talents on the team that we really needed the ball to be in more hands. As much as people think that decision was made overnight, really it was made over a good month and a half."
The results were immediate and astounding. Since dropping Smith from the roster, the Pistons are 12-3 and only 1 1/2 games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Dropping Smith wasn’t the only factor — the team started improving on offense when Jodie Meeks returned from a preseason back injury — but there’s no question that the team has been better without their highest-paid player.
Van Gundy’s favored offense involves a dominant post player surrounded by 3-point shooters. The idea was for Andre Drummond to fill the role that Van Gundy had previously given to Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, with Brandon Jennings, Meeks, Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hitting the threes.
Smith, though, prevented that from happening. The offense ground to a halt when he got the ball, and he too often ended up taking (and missing) long jumpers. With him out of the picture, Van Gundy has still had to adjust for the presence of Greg Monroe, but he has been able to get his style of basketball on the floor.
Still, getting rid of one player wouldn’t normally turn a bad team into a playoff contender.
"I’m surprised by this, but I’m not shocked, because I know Stan is a great coach," Gores said. "It’s a real tribute to our team and their ability to keep going. Even when we were 5-23, they weren’t quitting. We just needed to learn how to finish, and I feel great about how that’s happened."
After the Pistons beat Orlando 128-118, Gores was equally enthused in the locker room.
"He came in and told us how proud he was of all of us, because we didn’t quit," Brandon Jennings said. "You can tell he’s really excited about the way things are going."
Van Gundy was equally impressed, especially when Gores made sure to give the players and the coaches all of the credit.
"He’s a selfless guy, and he told all of us that we did this and he doesn’t deserve any of the praise," the coach said. "But he’s the catalyst that let us start doing what we’ve done. We’ve only gotten started, and we have a long way to go, but he’s the one who got it going."